Collaborating to flatten the curve

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ICMM was created twenty years ago, at a time when the mining industry urgently needed to recognise external concerns and act more responsibly. As the global community responds to the COVID-19 pandemic, there has never been a more critical time to demonstrate care for our people and communities, writes ICMM CEO Tom Butler.

In a world where almost a third of the planet’s population is in some form of lockdown, it is clear that all of us have a vital role to play in ‘flattening the curve’. From individuals to industries, we are all putting in place new working practices, diversifying and adapting.

The focus at ICMM is on supporting our members as they respond to this rapidly evolving situation. What this means in practice is that we’re regularly convening our 27 company members and 38 national and commodity association members - sharing information, guidance and accelerating learning.

Bringing our members together in this way provides the opportunity to identify areas for cooperation and collaboration, guided by two priorities:

  1. Protecting the health and safety of our workforce and communities; and
  2. Laying the groundwork now for the longer-term recovery of our workforce, and the communities and economies in which we operate.

Our members operate in over 50 countries. Each country’s response to the pandemic is different, and at a different stage. For the most part, our members (many of whom have operations in several countries) are grappling with similar challenges, such as implementing and adapting health and safety measures, identifying opportunities to help local communities, supporting suppliers of all sizes, dealing with the interruption of transportation networks, and shifting to new ways of working. The information flow that ICMM is facilitating currently, is focussed on conversations between health & safety leads, company medical professionals, community practitioners, communicators and regional staff.

Some of our members with operations in Africa have shared recent experiences of dealing with Ebola and are able to speak first-hand of lessons learned and their infectious disease management plans. Members have also discussed plans for helping their local communities. Some association members, notably the Minerals Council of Australia, have produced guidance protocols for operators. And there are examples where members have acted to protect the supply chain by slashing invoice payment times. And numerous examples where companies have made donations to support local response efforts. Rio Tinto has pledged $25 million in additional funding to support communities across the globe with COVID-19 preparedness and recovery efforts while in Australia, BHP has established a $50 million Vital Resource Fund to support regional communities. Vale has donated 5 million rapid test kits and additional protective clothing for doctors and nurses in Brazil. These are just a few examples of the work undertaken by our members to help communities and governments in preventing the spread of the virus.  

Mining Associations operating in countries that started their response to COVID-19 earlier have shared experiences with associations in places only just beginning to feel the impact. Members have exchanged information on acquiring and supplying test kits to protect the workforce and surrounding communities, and the creation of regional cooperative networks where they do not yet exist.

By collaborating, listening and learning from one another, our members can effectively support society as we try to get through this pandemic. And by coming together with government, civil society and private sector, the mining and metals industry can help our communities and supply chains rebuild – and continue supplying the minerals and metals needed for our economy and continued low-carbon transition.

There has never been a more important time to work together. At ICMM we can and will be part of that, because working together is our best chance of flattening the curve, rebuilding, and preparing for the future.